A beginner’s guide to ice fishing

Ice fishing

I was recently out on the ice chasing some feisty lake trout, and I started thinking back to when I first began ice fishing. Heading out on the ice is a fun and inexpensive way to get into the sport of fishing, and it provides a great opportunity to socialize with family and friends during the winter months. If you’re wondering where to start, these tips should point you in the right direction.

Get the right gear
One of the best things about ice fishing, especially if you’re getting into the sport for the first time, is that you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. You can also find most of the gear at your local Canadian Tire or bait shop.

After you apply for a fishing license within your province, you’re going to need an auger, which is your key to getting through the ice to the fish below. Augers come in a number of different sizes, and although power augers are more efficient if you’re drilling a number of holes, you really only need an inexpensive hand auger in the 6-to-8-inch range to get started.

When you’re choosing a rod-and-reel combo for ice fishing, a simple setup with a fairly stiff rod and an eight-pound fishing line will cover the bases for lake trout, walleye, perch, and plenty of other species. Ontario laws allow up to two lines per angler for ice fishing, so having a second line as a tip-up will increase your chances of a catch. A tip-up is a simple trap that you set with just a sinker and minnow; when a fish takes the bait, a flag rises to alert you. (Learn more about the top three tip-up tactics for ice fishing.)

Once you’ve sorted out your rod, reel, and auger, other items you’ll want to check off your list include an ice scooper, minnows, rod holders, a bucket, a portable barbecue, food, and drinks.

Ice fishing Choose your bait
When it comes to picking the “magic” lure in the ice-fishing section of your local Canadian Tire or tackle shop, the decision might seem more complicated than a teenage relationship. Truth be told, many lures work, but these days most are designed to catch fishermen rather than fish. If I could use only one method for the rest of my ice-fishing days, it would be live bait. And live bait is especially great for beginners, because fish naturally eat minnows!

That said, if you’re set on using lures, worthwhile options include tube jigs and Williams ice jigs.

Dress for the elements

Clothing is one of the most important parts of an enjoyable ice-fishing trip, and the great news is, you probably already own most of what you’ll need. Regular winter gear like insulated snow pants and heavy winter parkas are musts. Good gloves, a toque, and a pair of insulated waterproof boots round out the ice fisherman’s most important attire on the ice. You might also want to bring some extra gloves, a balaclava, and a scarf.

Take shelter
Although shelters aren’t a necessity when you’re ice fishing, they make the trip much more enjoyable—especially if there’s any bit of a breeze. There are a few different kinds of portable shelters on the market, including flip overs, hub style, and cabin style. But if it’s your first time out, your best option might be to rent a hut. These permanent structures come with heat and all the necessities, and they’re usually placed on productive fishing water.

Test the ice
Once you have all your gear, you’re ready to hit the ice—or are you? It’s extremely important to make sure the ice is at least four inches thick before you go out. To find out if the ice is safe or not, you can check with your local tackle shop, or check to see if other people are already on the ice. For safety’s sake, make sure you auger a hole as soon as you get on the ice, just to double check its thickness.

When you’re looking for an ice-fishing “spot,” your best bet for finding productive areas is to look for large cities of huts. A collection of other huts will be a sure sign that there are fish in the area. But don’t get too close—it’s important to stay a respectful distance from other huts.

Drill your holes
Now that you’ve picked a spot, it’s time to drill your holes and get set up. Remove the cover from your auger blades, and be very carful—they’re extremely sharp. Place the blades on the ice and add an ample amount of pressure as you start to crank the auger. If you’re doing it right, the auger will make a grinding noise and will slowly start to sink into the ice until it’s all the way through.

Time to fish
After drilling all of your holes, you can set up your lines with your minnows or lures. Let them descend all the way to the bottom, and then reel them up two feet. This will place you in prime fish habitat and give you an excellent chance at a catch.

The most important thing to remember about ice fishing is that it’s not all about catching fish. It’s about getting out and enjoying the great outdoors with friends and family, sharing laughs and good times on the ice, and experiencing moments you’ll never forget.

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